Exactly one year ago today, I got my first “real job” in the city. I had graduated with my bachelor’s in 2013, but after that I worked at my alma mater, which was located in my hometown. I lived with my parents for the first two years. After that, I moved into an apartment 10 minutes away from my parents, owned by my parents’ friends. I had also been juggling night classes on top of my full-time work schedule, working toward my master’s degree. So you see, life didn’t feel much different from when I was balancing my work-study job (in the SAME office) and my undergraduate coursework. The only differences: I a company card, and a cubicle.
I did get some really unique experiences through my first post-grad job: I flew down to Florida three times to attend college recruiting fairs. I got to lay on the sand in South Beach (for an hour before I headed to the airport), and I got to drive a black-on-black convertible Mustang up and down the South Florida highways for a week (the Enterprise guy gave me a free upgrade). But in a lot of ways, I was sheltered more than a typical new college grad. Even though I traveled a lot, I still depended on my family a lot as well. I counted on my parents for rides to and from the airport, and to and from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Even when I lived in my own apartment, I often stopped at my parents’ house for dinner, since their house was on the way home to mine. My mom would come over to feed my cats while I was away for work… and occasionally come over just to do my dishes. I was technically independent, but in a lot of ways, I wasn’t.
I graduated from my master’s program in December 2016. In that same month, I heard about a position through word of mouth. It was an admissions position, like I had been doing at my alma mater, with a similar school, but located right in the heart of Pittsburgh. And, as I learned through the interview process, WAY more generous in pay. It was a step forward in my career, and an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not only was the money enticing, but I had been itching to get closer to the city of Pittsburgh – there was much more to do there than in my hometown of Greensburg.
So when the hiring manager called me to accepted the position, I accepted it on the spot. Everything after that was a downhill spiral.
Here’s what I wish I knew BEFORE I accepted that glitzy city job:
1) Think Ahead When Making Big Investments
In November 2015, my Pontiac G6 broke down AGAIN and I needed $3,000 to repair it. I started looking into the possibility of trading my car in. A family friend owns a Jeep dealership, and easy-peezy-fosheezy I was signing a lease for a 2016 Patriot. It was the Latitude package, so it had the decked-out rims, a leather steering wheel, Bluetooth – all the sexy features that my 2008 Pontiac didn’t have. It also had 4-wheel drive, which is important for a Miss Independent living in suburban Pennsylvania. Leasing was a no-brainer. My commute to work was only 3 miles – I would have no problem staying within my 12,000 mile-per-year limit. So I didn’t think twice when I drove back and forth to Maryland to visit my friend Emily, or to my friend Meghan’s wedding three hours away, or that one time I drove up to Toronto for the weekend. I had barely racked up any mileage, so I could afford road trips like that.
Fast forward to February 2017 – I was now commuting 52 miles a day to get from my apartment in Greensburg to my Pittsburgh job. I was racking up miles like crazy, and I knew there would be ridiculous fees if I went over my limit. When I signed the lease for my car, the thought hadn’t occurred to me that I could be getting a new job during my lease, that my circumstances might change. So I put pressure on myself to find an apartment, and find one as soon as possible.
The Lesson: Best explained by Petyr Baelish of Game of Thrones. “Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.” That quote was in the context of fighting battles in a fictional medieval continent, but I think it still applies to leasing a car. Be prepared for change.
2) Be Careful Who You Live With
I was lucky enough to have a friend who wanted to move out of her parent’s house. She was responsible and fun and loved cats (since I had two, that was perfect). But we had trouble finding a two-bedroom apartment that fit our budget. Enter third roommate – another friend who got a job in the city the same time that I did. She, too, was living with her parents, and was open to moving out. We found a perfect house in the trendy neighborhood of Lawrenceville for an absolute steal. I was so excited to have a place to live that I wrote out a check for the entire security deposit, telling the other girls to pay me back later. One did; the other didn’t. She backed out. The remaining two of us went through with moving in and tried to swing it, but the pricing split between the two of us didn’t work. The landlord broke our lease and had us move out. That girl and I aren’t friends anymore. I didn’t get the security deposit back, either. I was also homeless, because my Greensburg apartment had already been leased to someone else – so I had to move back in with my parents.
The Lesson: Don’t front a security deposit for a roommate, for them to pay back later. EVER.
3) Now Is NOT The Time To Splurge Or Indulge
One of my new friends in the city was my Little Monster soulmate – someone who loves Lady Gaga almost as much as I do. Gaga’s tickets for the Joanne tour went for sale in the first week of my new job. I was making $15,000 more than my previous job, so I might as well have been a millionaire. I forget if it was her or my suggestion, but we completely agreed that meet & greet passes were absolutely necessary. Gaga was having major pain management problems – who knew when she would be around on tour again?! So before I even got my first paycheck, I dropped $1500 on a concert ticket. A Gaga ticket, but still.
A few weeks later, I was hanging out with my new Gaga friend on Friday afternoon after work. Afternoon turned to night, and her friends asked if we wanted to go out. Of course I did, but I was still in my work clothes. Our logical solution? Walking over to Urban Outfitters, where I dropped $400 on new jeans, a top, a leather jacket, and boots. Because, like I said – I was basically a millionaire. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of those investment items, but I still kick myself for that purchase. That and the countless nights I spent drinking with my new friends in the city, but those are a little hazy.
The Lesson: You just made a major life transition. Do not go on a shopping spree. Do not book a vacation or make it rain at the bars every weekend. Do not buy the Lady Gaga meet and greet passes.
4) Living With Parents Means Your Paychecks Should Go Into Savings, NOT Sephora
When I started bringing in my full-time paycheck, I wasn’t very well-versed on financial literacy. After I put a little into student loans, a pinch into savings, and my 5% into my 403b, I did what ever the heck I wanted with the rest. This included but was not limited to: clothes, trips to Panama (the country) and Tennessee, makeup, trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, shoes, Katy Perry floor seat tickets, an entire new bedroom set, and clothes. I didn’t care for living at home, but I was also terrified at the prospect of living on my own. So I made myself feel better about my lack of independence by treating myself time after time after time. And when I moved into my Greensburg apartment, my teensy amount of savings covered my deposit and the essentials for my new place. So when I got the Pittsburgh job, I had been living paycheck-to-paycheck for almost a year, and was in no way financially prepared for that life change.
The Lesson: When Rob Kardashian moved in with his sister Khloe, she made him pay rent monthly. She didn’t pocket it; she put it into a savings fund for him to put towards a house down payment. You should do that too. If you can’t rely on yourself to not mess with your savings, find a solution that makes that savings not so easy to tamper with. And you thought KUWTK was turning my brain to mush, Dad!
6) Read the Rules BEFORE You Use The Benefits
In the initial job offer when I accepted the position, the hiring manager told me that we were allotted 22 vacation days per year. I wrote it down in my notebook and never thought about it again. In April and June, I had to take a few days off for my friends’ weddings. Then I took a few days off later in June when my mom got surgery. But since I still had several vacation days left, I took two weeks off in July when I moved into my current apartment. It was a relaxing little staycation – got to get organized and enjoy my complex’s pool. I came back to find out that a few of my vacation days had been rejected by Human Resources. You see, new employees got 10 vacation days for their first year. Only after one year of employment did we get 22 days. So I had to take a pay cut for those surplus days taken – something that I certainly wouldn’t have done had I known prior.
The Lesson: Read the employee handbook cover to cover. Fact Check. Don’t make decisions just based on what the hiring manager or recruiter told you.
So here I am now, a year in. There’s a lot more to this adult-ing stuff than adults tell us, you guys. What major lessons did you learn when you got your first post-grad job?